This weekend, teachers and school staff in Ontario’s Niagara region are getting their first chance at a COVID-19 vaccine, thanks to the recommendation of the area’s vaccination co-ordination task force.
The group had previously flagged education workers as a priority and now the timing just made sense, said task force chair Dr. David Dec, a family physician based in Niagara Falls, Ont.
Many educators are under the age of 55 and cannot access mass clinics still aimed at older populations, nor can they receive the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine rolling out in pharmacies and some doctors’ offices. But now prioritized, Niagara-area teachers off for the April break next week can easily attend daytime vaccination clinics, Dec said.
As provinces and territories move into the next phase of their coronavirus vaccination campaigns, educators and school staff are starting to join the priority groups becoming eligible for shots. While different approaches are being used thus far, some emerging trends may offer lessons for bringing this immunization drive to all education workers.
Our thinking has thus far been to vaccinate the most at-risk populations first, Dec said, starting with long-term care and nursing homes, because “we knew that if you’re in that congregate setting, and if you bring that virus into that setting, then it can transmit like wildfire.”
Yet, we don’t seem to appreciate that classrooms are also congregate settings, he said. “They’re a bunch of people bunched-in close together.”
This push to prioritize educators is a “proactive approach,” according to Dec. “Everybody wants the schools to stay open, so if this is a small part of doing that, then I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Here is a look at how some jurisdictions are approaching the challenge.
B.C. starts in Surrey
Annie Ohana recalls feeling “absolute elation” upon learning at her union’s annual general meeting in March that school staffers in Surrey, B.C., would be prioritized next in the vaccine rollout, with officials citing how hard the Fraser Health region has been hit by COVID-19.
“I remember lining up for the shot on that Sunday and all of us smiling ear-to-ear — behind our masks, of course — and very much [feeling] just relief,” Ohana said of getting her first dose two weeks ago.
Yet the L.A. Matheson Secondary School teacher recognizes that it’s only a first step, since students, families and other B.C. education colleagues are still waiting for their chance.
“I got an exposure notice Sunday [for] my classroom. About half my class was missing yesterday. It’s good to feel that, ‘OK well, at least I had the first dose and so hopefully that can help me.’ But the reality is my kids don’t and many of their family members don’t yet,” Ohana said.
The campaign hasn’t moved as quickly as she’d anticipated out to educators in other B.C. regions, who haven’t yet been prioritized. The province’s teachers continue to push for safety measures like mask mandates and improved ventilation as well, she said.
“The more protected we are, the more we can keep the schools open.”
WATCH | Amid a third wave, educators are beginning to get priority for COVID-19 vaccines:
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